A Public Safety Income Tax Levy will be on the ballot this November for Piqua voters to decide whether to approve an increase in funding for the Police and Fire Departments. The 0.25% increase would generate an additional $1 million to be used solely for police and fire operations and equipment.
Over the past few years, the State of Ohio has reduced funding to local governments which has impacted the City of Piqua by an annual amount of $500,000. In addition, the state eliminated the Estate Tax which generated as much as $1 million annually for the City of Piqua that helped fund these departments. These funding reductions resulted in Police Officer and Firefighter positions not being filled and equipment replacement delayed. The city was fortunate to receive a SAFER grant in 2013 which funded six (6) Firefighters for a two year period. That grant will end in March 2015.
A citizens group, Citizens for Public Safety, is supporting the levy and providing information to voters about why the additional funding is needed. Below are specific questions and answers to help address citizen inquiries that have been prepared by the Citizens for Public Safety.
Q: How will the additional tax revenue from the 0.25% public safety income tax increase be utilized?
A: The increased revenue will pay for the addition of FIVE new Police Officers and retention of the SIX Firefighters currently funded through the SAFER Grant. It will generate approximately $1 million annually. Any remaining funds will go to operation and equipment needs.
Q: Who will and will not be paying this additional income tax?
A: City income tax is NOT collected on income from social security, pensions, unemployment benefits, military pay, public assistance, or alimony received. In addition, interest, dividends, and capital gains are NOT taxed.
Q: How serious a problem is crime in Piqua and how do we compare to other cities our size?
A: The City of Piqua belongs to an organization which allows us to compare Piqua to other municipalities across the United States. Piqua has one of the highest property crime rates in the nation for communities our size. Piqua had 1,056 property crimes in 2013 compared to the national average of 342. In Ohio, Piqua has the 7th highest rate of forcible rape of all cities, and the HIGHEST for a city our size in the nation. Piqua is routinely higher than similar cities in the number of alcohol-related and theft-related crimes. In 2013, Piqua Police Officers accounted for about 18% of all law enforcement officers in the county, but filed 23% of the criminal charges in Miami County Municipal Court.
Q: Will salaries of current members of the Police and fire Departments be increased?
A: NO. The additional levy funding will not increase salaries for either department.
Q: Why do the Fire and Police Departments need the additional staffing?
A: In short, the additional staffing is about keeping the community/neighborhoods safe and protecting families. Crime rates are up in Piqua resulting in the highest rate of property crimes in the nation for a community our size. Piqua also has one of the highest forcible rape rates in the state and nation. The Police Department is called upon to deal with problems related to decreased jail space, fewer mental health resources, and inadequate recovery programming for those suffering from substance abuse addictions. Our Fire Department has experienced an annual increase in emergency runs in recent years. Emergency calls/runs increased 20% from 2012 to 2013.
Q: How does the Piqua Police Department compare to other departments in our area in terms of staffing and budget?
- The Piqua Police Department has 30 sworn officers;
- Piqua ranks in the lowest 20% of cities for police staffing;
- Troy and Sidney generally operate with six to 10 MORE officers than Piqua’;
- The average population for cities in Ohio with a similar number of officers (30) is 4,000 fewer citizens than Piqua;
- Our Police Department compares operation and maintenance costs to other cities on a per-capita basis. In 2012, our budget was $196 per citizen while the average for a city our size was $206;
- As a city with a high crime rate and low staffing levels, police officers handle many more crime investigations than officers in other police departments. This limits time for patrol and proactive policing which is what contributes to lowering crime rates and helping citizens feel safe.
How does the Piqua Fire Department compare to other departments in our area in terms of staffing, budgets, and number of runs?
- The Piqua Fire Department has 32 Firefighters/Paramedics (including Command Staff); a 2014 budget of $4,053,708; and received 4,044 emergency calls in 2013;
- The Sidney Fire Department has 34 Firefighters/Paramedics(including Command Staff); a 2014 budget of $4.5 million; and received 3,126 emergency calls in 2013;
- The Troy Fire Department has 38 Firefighters/Paramedics (including Command Staff); a 2014 budget of $5.1 million, and received 8,561 emergency calls in 2013 – – NOTE: The Troy Fire Department, with multiple stations and staffing, sends a fire vehicle as a chase for EMS assistance and records these instances as BOTH a fire and an EMS run while Piqua Fire Department utilizes a chase vehicle but only records as ONE run.
Q: Will the police and fire departments share equally in the additional funds?
A: Yes, but funding may vary from year to year based on each department’s need at a future time.
Q: Why are the citizens of Piqua being asked to increase the city income tax?
A: Purely for the safety of the community and our families. The additional personnel allows for quicker fire and emergency responses, and to fight and deter the growing crime incidents.
Q: What has the city done to save money for the public safety departments?
A: The city has eliminated vacant positions, deferred pay increases, obtained grants to purchase needed equipment, conducted performance measurement to find savings, and reduced operating budgets.
Q: What have the unions in these departments done to save money for the departments?
A: The unions have agreed to eliminate pay increases and operation changes, absorb increases in health insurance costs, assist with grant writing to obtain funding for operations and equipment, and find cost savings for the departments.
Q: What was the use of the SAFER Grant for the past two years? Why can’t the SAFER Grant be renewed and why was the funding spent totally on personnel?
A: The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) provided funding directly to fire departments to help them increase the number of trained, “front line” Firefighters available in their communities. The goal of SAFER was to help the local fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Agency. The grant funding is specific and had to be used for salary and benefits and only for a two-year period. The SAFER grant was only to be used as a bridge to temporarily hire Firefighters until permanent funding can be obtained. The Fire Department applied for the SAFER grant in August of 2012. Permanent funding was sought from a Public Safety Levy in November of 2012 which failed. SAFER grants are not renewable.
Q: What additional services have come from the SAFER Grant and how will they be impacted by the passage or failure of the income tax increase?
A: The SAFER grant’s major impact is SAFETY. Inadequate staffing levels expose citizens to increased risks, drains the Fire Department limited resources, and stresses the emergency response system. There is a direct correlation between decreasing crew size and an increase in expected life, property, and economic losses for citizens. The additional Firefighters help Piqua meet the minimum recognized standard of 15 Firefighters on the scene of a structure fire and increase our ability to fight fires and rescue victims. Prior to the SAFER funding, the department had 19 documented fire responses in 2011 where fewer than four Firefighters were available; 11 incidents involved two or fewer firefighters, and three incidents which resulted in no fire units available to respond and relying initially on mutual aid. This would be the reality of a failure of the levy.
Q: What will this increase cost a citizen working or living in Piqua?
A: A citizen with an earned income of $30,000 a year will pay an additional $75.00 per year or $1.44 per week.
Q: What constitutes a run for Fire and Police? Is accompanying the police considered a fire call/run?
A: The Fire Department statistically tracks runs based on the nature of the call and information received through the emergency system. It is not the policy of the Fire Department to accompany the Police Department, but if requested, it would be recorded as a run based on the type of assistance needed (medical or fire). Police agencies tend to shy away from “calls-for-service” comparisons due to the broad range of definitions of a “call.” The Police Department is always advised of Fire/EMS runs, but rarely accompanies the Fire Department unless the address is known to be dangerous or the type of run indicates both a crime and an injury have occurred.
Q: Why did the Fire Department accept a grant to hire six firefighters for only two years knowing we would need more money to keep them beyond that time?
A: Solely to provide the best fire and emergency service to the community and the protection of Piqua citizens/families. The additional staffing allows for quicker response to multiple calls and reduces overtime costs by almost 50 percent.
Q: Some communities employ part-time firefighters to be called in fire emergencies and has this been considered or should it?
A: It has been considered, but although this may work in large urban areas, this is not the best service option for Piqua. Part-time employees must constantly be replaced or may not be available to work or respond when really needed.
Q: In our current weak economy, most people have been forced to cut budgets. How has this been done by our Police and Fire Departments?
A: Both departments have eliminated positions, reduced operating budgets, eliminated pay increases, absorbed additional health insurance costs, and sought grants and donations to provide operational and equipment needs. In addition, decrease of command staff and salaries, implementing user fees, reduced medic crew size, and elimination of training has taken place.
Q: How will passing the public safety levy make us safer?
A: The only way to fight some crime is to have police present or available. The same applies to fire and emergency responses. The additional personnel enable the departments to respond sooner and more effectively.
Q: If the levy passes, will Police do “Neighborhood Policing” and will they be more visible on the streets and in neighborhoods?
A: Increasing the number of Police Officers makes them more visible and visibility makes people feel safer. With approval of the levy, the Police Department would continue and expand its current PROTECT Piqua Program. Beyond the perception of safety, the Piqua Police Department has adopted an “Intelligence Led, Victim Driven” philosophy. When intelligence sources allow prediction of a crime in a specific neighborhood, the levy would provide more time to work with residents of that neighborhood on notification and prevention.
Q: What has the city done to find grants and other sources to replace the SAFER Grant?
A: All city staff and departments constantly seek grants to assist with every aspect of city government. In 2013, over $5 million was received from grants, donations, and outside revenue sources. Unfortunately, only the federal government provides grants to local governments for fire and police personnel.